I recently wrote about the fact that website distribution of digitally-signed PDF facsimiles of the “classic” printed versions of certain Government Printing Office publications made it possible to do “official” research into federal administrative regulations freely, online. Among those free resources is the Code of Federal Regulations, the codification of federal administrative-agency regulations.
There isn’t any quite comparable access to “fully official” online legal research in statutory law in the federal system, due to the complicated status of the United States Code. Read the rest on lawlibrary.case.edu
In finding free, or very low cost, ways to conduct legal research one of the obstacles is often the unofficial status of freely available web-based tools. In other cases, even where the official, formal, “weight” of free (or low-cost) resources is equivalent to, say, much-prized unofficial resources like the annotated codes available in print or through Lexis or Westlaw, the effective cognitive authority and assumed merit (deservedly or not) of the resource is much lower.
In the case of Federal regulatory resources, however, the most official and formal research methods — hearkening back to those used for “old fashioned” print-bound regulatory research — are available, for free, online. There is a penalty in convenience, and there are drawbacks in terms of updating to which the wary researcher must be attentive. But the tools are there and they are used, in fact, very much in the fashion of print-based research into the Code of Federal Regulations, the Federal Register, and the other tools and tables that connect those resources together in response to a real research question.
One of the more promising initiatives in the arena of electronic publishing for law is CALI’s eLangdell project. And one of the most important non-profit providers of primary legal materials has long been Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute.
This Fall, the two have teamed up to release a set of ebook editions of the Federal Rules of Evidence, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, published by CALI on the eLangdell platform from rule text gathered, processed, and adapted by the LII.
An interesting, useful, and often overlooked reference source in law libraries has long been the “annotated Constitution” published by the Government Printing Office as The United States Constitution: Analysis and Interpretation. The annotation was initially produced by the Congressional Research Service as a Senate Document in 1964, and consists of narrative (sometimes lengthy) passages following each clause of the Constitution and amendments, citing and discussing the impact and interpretation of Supreme Court holdings. New editions are periodically produced, and update/supplement volumes are produced between republications of the entire work.
This post is a written re-cap of a 5-minute summary I gave at the Chicago (CALI/Oyez hosted) Law.gov workshop, as one of several quick presentations on various jurisdictions to be covered by the National Inventory of Legal Materials. Spurred on in part by the Law.gov initiative, while building on past efforts regarding authentication, preservation, and permanent public access, AALL has taken on the task of producing a nationwide inventory of primary legal materials. This inventory seeks to enumerate law sources from every state, their availability (in print and online), limitations like claims of copyright, and the formats, quality, and communicated status of those materials.
Our portion of the inventory for Ohio will take a much more fine-toothed look at every form of law-making work product we can identify within the state. This “5-minute” take is based on a quick survey of what I could learn from my colleagues here at CWRU, most of whom have much more experience in this jurisdiction than I do. As I presented this in person in Chicago, my “take away” points were that, essentially, no legal primary sources posted publicly on the Web from the state Ohio are considered official, little is authenticated in any form, and the one small example of authentication that exists, while a worthy experiment, is of little immediate practical importance. I could have added that the state produces comparatively little official material of its own in print, either, with many widely disseminated published materials designated as official being products of major commercial publishers.
I’m posting this summary here in hopes that those who encounter it, including librarians not participating formally in the inventory, can add comments, corrections, and additions that may help the Ohio working group begin our more focused work for the National Inventory.
Sarah Glassmeyer has posted a similar summary of what she encountered in Indiana and Kentucky, and also includes a more complete account (and links) of both Law.gov and the National Inventory.